Worried about unemployment? Be glad you live in the Madison area

There’s been a lot of kvetching about the national jobs outlook lately, and for good reason. With the unemployment rate hovering at a stubborn 9%, it’s no wonder President Obama is pulling out all the stops to get people back to work.

In his recent speech to the nation, Obama laid out a $447 billion jobs plan to further stimulate the economy. Hopefully it works, but no one has to be reminded how languid this recovery has been.

This kind of economic climate is unnerving to everyone, because if it’s not raining on you now, it could very well be sometime down the road. Whereas the ‘90s seemed to offer an embarrassment of riches for many job seekers, most people today feel grateful just to be gainfully employed, whether their jobs offer them personal fulfillment or not.

So is now really the time to start looking on the bright side? Yes … yes it is.

Now, counting blessings is not the sort of thing I’m usually comfortable doing. I’m typically a glass-half-empty sort of guy. On the rare occasions that I veer toward glass-half-full optimism, the glass is typically half full of something awful, like crippling shame or Grape Shasta.

But I’ve been trying to be more optimistic lately. I’ve been dabbling in Zen Buddhism, and while I’m hardly enlightened, I no longer believe that the central tenet of Buddhism is “kill ‘em all and let the Bodhisattva of Compassion sort ‘em out.” So, you know, I’ve made progress.

So while there’s a lot of suffering in the country these days, I’m somewhat comforted in knowing that the suffering is impermanent – and that it could be a lot worse.

For instance, be happy that you live in the Madison metropolitan area – which is tied for the 20th best jobs picture in the nation with an unemployment rate of 5.5% – instead of, say, Detroit (14.1%), or, God forbid, El Centro, Calif. (30.8%).

And be happy that you live in Wisconsin, whose unemployment rate is a disappointing 7.8% (tied for 21st best in the nation), but remains far off the pace set by Nevada (12.9%).

Indeed, the national unemployment rate masks huge differences in state jobs pictures. Apparently, opportunity still exists in North Dakota … assuming you’re willing to live in North Dakota. (Somehow, that brings to mind the classic line from The Princess Bride: “Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed, in Greenland?”) Thanks in part to a recent oil boom, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is an enviable 3.3%. In contrast, if you heed the siren song of California, you’ll likely have plenty of time to stare at the Pacific Ocean. Its unemployment rate is a stubbornly high 12%.

But why move anywhere when you can stay here? In fact, not only is Madison’s employment picture comparatively rosy, it’s been the best in the country so far this century, according to a recent analysis.

Now, this is small comfort if you don’t have a job. Being unemployed can be crushing, both financially and psychologically. But if you live here – and especially if you happen to be employed – chances are any problems you have are surmountable.

A friend of mine recently turned me on to the website White Whine, which chronicles the daily grousing of the comparatively privileged. Despite its racially indelicate title (What, people of color can’t be spoiled, too?), it is a useful reminder of how absurd our problems must seem to those who often struggle to simply feed and clothe themselves. My favorite entry shows a Facebook pic of a guy stretched out in a spacious first-class compartment, with a television on his right and a bouquet of purple orchids on his left. The caption reads, “On the way to NYC – Not liking this new cabin design. I can see someone else’s TV shining at my face for the rest of the flight.”

Honorable mention goes to a screen shot of a CNN newscast. The main headline says, “Happening Now: SunChips ‘Bags’ Noisy Bag.” Underneath that, in much smaller type: “14 People Killed When Vehicle Plunges From Cliff in Nepal.” (The real tragedy, I think, would be careening off a cliff on a Nepalese bus while eating from a SunChips bag that is incapable of drowning out the screams.)

At any rate, I’m glad I discovered this site. I think it will be a useful place to turn in the future when my First World problems begin to encroach on my fragile sense of contentment.

So buck up, folks. It could be much worse. You could be unemployed … in North Dakota.

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